Our curmudgeonly friend sends along a Canadian Press dispatch about the process of assembling Stephen McNeil’s new cabinet.

However, experience is just one of several factors McNeil will be considering when handing out portfolios. The cabinet must also reflect a broad cross-section of the province’s geography and its ethnic, racial and linguistic mixture.

Our friend comments:

That’s right. That’s how we got Sterling Belliveau. What good would a cabinet be without a Sterling Belliveau in it?

Imagine what McNeil’s cabinet could look like if he had the cojones to ignore geography, gender, ethnicity, race, and language. What would happen if he just picked the very best people among the 33 members of his caucus?

Nah! Nova Scotia is far too committed to mediocrity.

Parliamentary press gallery: ’embarrassed, angry, and frightened’

Blogger and tech journalist Jeff Jedras has a good analysis of the moral panic that swept through the Parliamentary Press Gallery last Friday (and previously touched on here).

The leading lights of Canadian journalism had had the news cycle snatched from their grasp not once but twice the day before, and not by the customary culprits in the PMO but by a pair of tweeters, one obscure (the PEI man who kicked off the wildly popular #tellviceverything meme) the other anonymous (@vikileaks30).

After floundering unhappily for 24 hours in the turbulent wake of these citizen journalists, the gallery regrouped Friday for an all-out assault on @VikiLeaks30’s “despicable” exposé of ministerial hypocrisy, supplemented by feckless efforts to unmask the fiend.

Here’s Jedras:

What really interests me though is the reaction of the proverbial “main-stream media” to the Vikileaks story, with an Ottawa Citizen piece attempting to trace the IP address of the “@Vikileaks30 leaker” spurring endless speculation and demands to identify the person or persons responsible.


It should be noted that had @Vikileaks30 given their documents to a journalist who chose to publish a story based on them, then the media would be reminding us how important it is to protect the confidentiality of their sources. Even competing outlets wouldn’t try to unmask another journalist’s confidential source. That’s just not cricket, old boy.


What the media reaction to @Vikileaks30 really shows though is how angry, and perhaps frightened, they are about losing their traditional role as the gatekeepers of news, the people that get to decide what we, the unwashed masses, need to know and what we don’t need to know. Journalists are used to being in the know, to having the inside details, the scoop. It helps make up for the low pay, long hours and heavy drinking.

Jedras is onto something here. Obscure tweeters had exposed the media’s failure to make a story out of the well known (to them) disconnect between Vic Toews’s sanctimonious public pronouncements on family values and his own tawdry infidelities. That embarrassed and angered the gallery. When the Ottawa Citizen claimed to have linked the offending twitter account to a House of Commons IP address, it propelled the flock into a frenzy of denunciations and a hunt for the malfeasor.

Except that, as Jedras pointed out, most of these same news organizations had already made their own passing references to Toew’s messy divorce. He compiled a litany of these media mentions, in the Winnipeg Free Press, Canadian Press, the Vancouver Sun, and the National Post. They were, to be sure, only fleeting mentions, each consisting of a bare-bones sentence or two. No major media outlet had fully reported the story, though the details were all on the public record.

Compare that reticence to the same media outlets’ treatment of a scandal involving NDP-affiliated Toronto City Councillor Adam Giambrone, whose 2010 campaign for mayor came to an abrupt halt after the Toronto Star exposed his escapades on a City Hall sofa with a 19-year-old student blissfully unaware that his would-be worship had a long-term, live-in partner.

The Star’s respected National Affairs Correspondent, Linda Diebel, broke that story in lurid detail, whereupon the same journals that would later denounce @Vikileaks30 pounced on the scandal with a vengeance, publishing comprehensive followups until they succeeded in driving Councillor Giambrone from office. So entranced was the National Post with the story that it followed up a year-and-a-half later — after Giambrone had moved to another city — with a snide “where are they now” reprise of the incident.

That would be the same National Post that denounced @Vikileaks30’s recital of the  unreported facts in the Toews case as a “further debasement of the Canadian political conversation..”

Do as I say, not as I do, at least when Harper cabinet ministers are involved.

H/T: Charlie Phillips

Comforting the unafflicted

Former reporters turn up in the darndest places. Alan Jeffers, erstwhile ink-stained wretch for the Chronicle-Herald and Canadian Press, turned up this week on the website of Mother Jones, the “smart, fearless” left-wing American magazine once edited by Michael Moore. Jeffers was defending his current employer, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, from claims in both MoJo and Forbes Magazine, a rather more conservative journal, that it paid no US income tax in 2009 despite earnings of *cough* US$19.3 billion. And a fine job he did.

In case you were wondering, $19.3 billion is enough to put a new Cadillac in every driveway in Nova Scotia. Taxes included this time.

Hat tip: CH

MacKay cheerleads stonewalling of torture inquiry

Hats off to Murray Brewster of Canadian Press for his chilling story on the Harper Government’s determined campaign to prevent a Military Police Complaints Commission inquiry from getting to the bottom of allegations that Canadian troops in Afghanistan abetted torture.

Peter_Mackay-sThe commission is investigating complaints by Amnesty International and the B.C. Civil Liberties Association that Canadian troops knowingly handed over prisoners to torture in Afghan prisons. But federal lawyers invoked a little known national security clause in the Canada Evidence Act to bar a key government witness from testifying. Their fig leaf? They claimed Richard Colvin, who was political director at a Canadian-run base when troops began handing over prisoners, had no relevant testimony to offer.

Colvin’s lawyer said he has both personal knowledge and documents relating “to the risk of torture resulting from the transfer of detainees to Afghan authorities.” Lead commission counsel Freya Kristjanson said Colvin has “highly relative, credible and important evidence to provide on the issues.”

Colvin was the only government witness who agreed to speak with commission lawyers, but the Justice Department invoked the gag order before he could do so. They also invoked a classic Catch 22, saying other witnesses might be allowed to testify if the commission could show they have relevant evidence, something commission lawyers will find hard to do since the witnesses, including a retired general, refuse to speak with them.

In the Commons Wednesday, Defense Minister and Central Nova MP Peter MacKay pretended there is no cover-up. He noted that the commission had praised the government for its openness. Kristjanson said MacKay was referring to comments she made last spring in reaction to the promised disclosure by federal lawyers, but they stopped co-operating immediately after she praised them.

What the NDP’s tougher renewable energy targets mean

In a post yesterday Monday, contrarian observed that a little noticed NDP campaign promise would advance Nova Scotia Power’s renewable energy targets by five years. Today Tuesday, the new government made that promise official government policy. NSP must generate one quarter of its energy from renewable sources (hydro, wind, tidal, wave, solar, biomass, biofuel, or landfill gas) by 2015.

It’s certainly a laudable step, but how big a step is it? The answer to that is incredibly complicated.

It’s complicated because various stages of the renewable energy requirements imposed on NSP define renewable energy three different ways:

  • as overall generation from renewable sources;
  • as generation from renewable sources built after 2001 in Nova Scotia by companies other than NSP;
  • as generation from renewable sources built after 2001 in Nova Scotia, whether by NSP or third parties.

It’s still more complicated because the amount of generation from each of these sources can be measured in two ways: in absolute terms, as so many gigawatt-hours (GWH) of electricity; or in relative terms, as a percentage of NSP’s overall generation.

Bear in mind that the second yardstick is a moving target. If NSP’s efforts to curb electricity use (known as demand side management, or DSM) succeed in reducing our overall power consumption, a fixed amount of gigawatt-hours would constitute a larger percentage of that smaller consumption. If consumption of electricity falls, NSP could conceivably move from 12 percent renewables to 13 percent renewables without actually adding any new renewable energy to the grid. If one of our large industrial power users were to shut down—the NewPage mill at Point Tupper, for example—the percentage of NSP’s energy from renewable sources would shoot upward, even without NSP producing any new renewable energy.

So let’s walk through the various targets NSP has to meet.


Under the Electricity Act, a set of regulations known as the Renewable Energy Standards (RES) requires NSP to purchase at least five percent of its 2010 energy supply from renewable sources owned by third parties and built after 2001.

Newspapers and broadcasters sometimes misreport this target as stating that five percent of NSP’s generation must come from renewable sources. A Canadian Press story carried by the Herald made that mistake today. NSP already produces 11 to 12 percent of its overall generation from renewable sources, mainly hydro. The RES standard calls for five percent of new renewables owned by third parties. That would bring NSP’s overall use of renewables to something over 16 percent.

NSP forecasts that it will sell 12,200 GWH of energy in 2010. Five percent of that figure is 610 GWH. So to meet the 2010 target, NSP must generate 610 GWH from new, third-party, renewable sources.

Of the renewable energy NSP already uses, approximately 180 GWH qualifies under the 2010 RES rules. That leaves a shortfall of 430 GWH. In 2007, NSP put out requests for proposals that led to contracts with independent producers for 711 GWH of wind power—more than enough to meet and exceed the 2010 targets.

Unfortunately, the worldwide financial meltdown that hit late last summer has stalled or killed several of those projects. Environmental approvals have also been slower than hoped for, especially in parts of the province with strong NIMBY proclivities. To compensate for the possible shortfall, NSP, NewPage Port Hawkesbury Corp., and Strait Bio-Gen Ltd. cobbled together a slapdash proposal for a biomass generation project using wood waste, and then sought unprecedented prior approval from the Utility and Review Board for the scheme. To no one’s surprise but NSP’s, the UARB didn’t bite, so the utility’s ability to meet the 2010 target remains in serious doubt.

NSP still has one escape hatch. If it fails to meet the 2010 target, if can still comply with the regulations if it meets the target in 2011, and produces an additional amount of new renewable energy in 2011 equal to twice the amount of its 2010 shortfall.

Does your head hurt yet?


Two different standards apply to NSP in 2013:

  • Under the province’s Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act (or EGSPA, pronounced, “Eggs-puh” by provincial bureaucrats), 18.5 percent of Nova Scotia’s electricity needs must come from renewable sources by 2013. (This extraordinary act was the crowning achievement of former Environment Minister Mark Parent, defeated in the June election, and retired Deputy Minister Bill Lahey, who together somehow steered it through the Tory cabinet and won unanimous legislative approval.)
  • Under the Renewable Energy Standards (RES) regulations of the Electricity Act, the 2010 requirement for five percent new renewables increases to 10 percent in 2013, but this time it doesn’t all have to come from third parties. NSP can produce its own renewable energy.

Depending on overall energy consumption, meeting the RES regulations would bring NSP’s overall renewable production to something like 21 percent, well above the 18.5 percent required by Eggs-pah. (I love talking like a bureaucrat.) So the tougher RES standard rules the day. And that brings us to…


Acting Energy Minister Frank “Nanky” Corbett announced today that NSP would be required to produce 25 percent of its overall energy needs from renewable sources by 2015, five years earlier than the Renewed Energy Strategy unveiled last winter would have required. [Disclosure: contrarian spent part of 2007 and much of 2008 under contract with the Department of Energy working on this strategy, mainly as a writer.]

On its face, this is a reasonable decision. It will keep the renewable portion of NSP’s generation increasing at about two percentage points per year, a pretty good clip. It’s much tougher than what the Tories had imposed.

It may also serve as cover for cutting NSP some slack on its probable failure to meet the 2010 standards. Asked about this today, an official of the provincial energy department said, “It’s going to be a challenge for Nova Scotia Power to meet the 2010 target. We’re looking at some different options for dealing with that, and this [relaxing the 2010 deadline] is one option we will present to government.”

“The point is that we need more renewables,” he added. “It doesn’t make sense to get too hung up on this particular target.”

David Wheeler, Dean of Management Studies at Dalhousie University, will carry out a public consultation on how best to reach the tougher targets Corbett announced today.  Meeting them won’t be easy, or cheap. It’s a pity the NDP won’t have the $28 million it promised to spend subsidizing dirty, coal-fired eletricity to help with this crucial environmental task.

[Note: This is a long post (my longest ever) about an important but mind-numbingly tedious set of regulations and calculations. It shouldn’t astonish anyone if I got some of the details wrong. If any of contrarian‘s friends in the Department of Energy, the Ecology Action Centre, Nova Scotia Power, the independent wind industry, the Department of Environment, the NDP, or the PC Party have corrections or amplifications to offer, please click the “email a comment” tab at the top of this post.]